Soccer is the sport many Americans love to hate. Whether you think it’s boring, inferior as a sport, you hate the “flop”, or just tired of the rabid fútbol evangelists (who are often more persistent than Sam-I-am and his green eggs and ham), soccer is a sport which many people just refuse to like. I am not going to ask you to like soccer. I’ll leave it to the true fans to champion its merits. Let me suggest, however, that you move from vocal antagonist of soccer to at least an appreciation of the sport. Here are three missional reasons to do so:
1. To be part of the global community. While we live in an increasingly global world, the major American sports are local in their appeal. Basketball, football, baseball, and hockey are mostly American sports with a few Canadian teams and a handful of international players. In contrast, soccer has a worldwide appeal and is a truly global professional sport. If you can speak the language of soccer, you are speaking a nearly universal language. When you participate in soccer, you are part of something bigger – a widely popular phenomenon in which the majority of the world participates. As we encourage believers to become “world Christians,” soccer provides a starting place to move from a local to a global mindset.
2. To have a natural bridge for building relationships across cultures. When I was an industrial chaplain for OTR truck drivers, I found it difficult at times to find a bridge to build relationships with a group of men who had little in common with me. A breakthrough happened when I learned to talk fishing and hunting. I could always talk about the outdoors. The men were eager to teach me their skills, take me on expeditions, and even help me with my boat. Fishing and hunting gave me a way to connect and build relationships with men with whom I had little else in common. In a similar way, soccer is a natural bridge for building relationships with people of other nationalities and cultures. Want to engage your international/ethnic students with American students at summer camp? Hold a soccer match. Want an instant following of children on a mission trip? Get out a soccer ball. Need a way to open a conversation with an international student at your university? Ask them about the World Cup. A hatred of soccer will close doors for you that an appreciation of soccer might open.
3. To shed your ethnocentrism. Many of the American cultural values that are exemplified in other sports are missing from soccer. A big reason soccer continues to have a difficult time creating a fan base in the US is because the values portrayed in sports like baseball and football are distinctly Western and American values. If you’re like me, you find soccer inferior to just about every other American sport. But if I break that down, mine is really an ethnocentric point of view. Clinging to the idea that American sports are superior to soccer is in fact a belief that American culture is superior to other cultures around the world. In order for me to appreciate soccer, I must learn to appreciate the some of the cultural values that make it so popular – values that may be different than those of my own culture. And, shedding my ethnocentrism is a first step to effectively ministering across cultures. If nothing else, gaining an appreciation of soccer may be a practical way to follow the example of Paul. “I have become all things to all men that by all means I might save some.”
In the end, I had to do a critical self-evaluation of my soccer-bashing spirit. I had to ask myself, “Would you willing to give up your dislike of soccer for the cause of the gospel?” For now, I will strive to gain an appreciation for the sport loved by so many around the world. Who knows? Maybe someday I might come to even like it.
What about you? Do you think soccer can be an avenue toward becoming a more missional Christian?
Read more by Todd Benkert at behiswitnesses.com